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Written by Jan Henderson for Inside magazine. Above: Stephen Javens and Kerry Phelan, photo Anson Smart.
There are those in the design industry that manage to keep a low profile and prefer it that way. This doesn’t suit everyone, but it has long been the style of Kerry Phelan. Since 2009 when Phelan established Kerry Phelan Design Office (KPDO) there has been little written or published about her substantial design prowess, but thankfully this is changing. As one of the former directors of Hecker Phelan Guthrie, Phelan secured her position as one of our pre-eminent designers involved with many of the groundbreaking projects that ensured the Hecker Phelan Guthrie name was always in the news. Now, having moved away to commence her own practice, Phelan is riding high with a swag of commissions and many fine completed projects.
KPDO is a practice that encompasses the best of both worlds – the design talent, experience and wisdom of Phelan and the architectural maturity and intellectualism of partner Stephen Javens, who joined the practice in 2014. Together they and their 25 staff work primarily on residential, multi-residential and hospitality projects, many overseas. Phelan and Javens are the two halves to a perfect whole, each with their own role, but with a deep understanding of the other’s work. Living and working together can be either a blessing or a curse, but in this instance the living together enhances the professional side of their lives and this is evident from the consummate projects produced from the studio. To say that KPDO has the Midas touch when it comes to design is almost to underestimate the quality of the work. Their projects are polished, sophisticated, always different, and client and site specific. Their style, if you can say that there is one, is a blend of tradition with the modern, showcased in a new and exciting way.
For Phelan, design and the love of interiors came from her father, an interior designer. Her aesthetic was further developed at art school and through the study of photography. She honed her craft when working for her father for some years and moved to DCM (Denton Corker Marshall) and then onto Crown Casino where she met Paul Hecker and the rest is, as they say, history. Together, Hecker and Phelan worked on the Establishment, a groundbreaking interior project in Sydney and, after many other celebrated projects, Hecker Phelan was joined by Hamish Guthrie in early 2000.
Now in her own practice, Phelan and KPDO are working to raise the bar and set a new benchmark for their design. The work is textured and detailed, originating initially from the brief and the site, and subsequently the design is brought to life with style and impeccable taste. Collaboration and communication are integral between directors, staff and clients and, with each project, KPDO’s intention is to make a creative design that has a new level of creativity, constantly asking questions about the process. These questions include: is this good enough? Is there another way to make this design happen?
The studio doesn’t follow the crowd or social media for inspiration; instead it strives to be individual, citing travel and the traditions of the recent past as drivers. Its deft touch when designing a home, whether large or small, is invented and reinvented with each project. Themes and imitation are never considered and this is one of the reasons that KPDO is forging ahead. Perhaps others in the design industry are not aware of the projects from this practice, but the developers, residential clients and repeat supporters are keenly cognisant of the work that is being achieved.
In fact, with many commissions on the books yet to be started, KPDO is expanding and the office that has been home to the practice for the past seven years is soon be replaced with something more spacious to accom- modate staff. KPDO, however, doesn’t see itself as a juggernaut with multiple branches. Phelan and Javens agree that they can achieve global brand recognition just staying where they are and keeping the creativity contained to the Melbourne location – and these days a quick flight to Hong Kong is all in a day’s work.
As form follows function, success follows hard work with the correct amount of knowledge, inspiration and, of course, talent. Phelan and Javens are committed to best practice, their own best practice, and the work they are doing through KPDO is to be enjoyed and admired, not just by their clients but by everyone who relishes beautiful design.